4.5 4
Director: Jean Negulesco

Cast: Clifton Webb, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Wagner


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Chances are that without James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster, Fox Video probably wouldn't be releasing Jean Negulesco's Titanic (1953) on DVD. It's a black-and-white movie from the pre-Cinemascope era, clocking in at a mere 98 minutes (less than half the length of Cameron's epic). Without overly impressive special effects by today's standards, it's more melodramaSee more details below


Chances are that without James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster, Fox Video probably wouldn't be releasing Jean Negulesco's Titanic (1953) on DVD. It's a black-and-white movie from the pre-Cinemascope era, clocking in at a mere 98 minutes (less than half the length of Cameron's epic). Without overly impressive special effects by today's standards, it's more melodrama than spectacle, with only two names in the cast (Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Wagner) that mean much to the public today. Releasing it was something of a no-brainer, but you can tell that Fox was sheepish about it; released as part of the company's "Studio Classics" line, they've loaded the disc up with bonus features (including two separate commentary tracks) that outweigh the film itself. For visual spectacle, Cameron's movie has outdone it six ways from Sunday, and Roy Ward Baker's A Night to Remember (1958), based on Walter Lord's 1955 bestseller, outstrips it on a technical, historical, and scholarly level; even the black-and-white Academy ratio image (1.33:1) will seem anemic to most modern viewers. But the film benefits from a handsome full-screen transfer, with rich contrasts and the kind of detail that one never found in the old television broadcasts of this movie. Additionally, the movie does have a heart, and a lot of heart, rooted in the performances -- Clifton Webb as the estranged husband of Barbara Stanwyck gives a performance as a priggish member of the upper-crust that oozes charm and confidence, and every scene in which he appears is worth seeing. Almost his equal, but somewhat more arch, is Richard Basehart's performance as a defrocked alcoholic priest, and Thelma Ritter as a character modeled after Molly Brown is also effective. Barbara Stanwyck's performance doesn't really come to life until about 17 minutes into the movie, but it is rewarding to watch overall. The interesting aspect of the movie, when viewed today, is that, while the effects look a little threadbare and perfunctory, the performances carry it -- Webb's character becomes a compelling presence despite his flaws, and the others follow in behind him, so that one is actually moved by some of the portrayals. The bonus materials on this disc are about as extensive as any in the series. The two commentary tracks offer very little overlap -- Richard Schickel's audio track ranges across the cinematic content of the movie in a somewhat too leisurely fashion, often telling us what we're seeing onscreen and occasionally missing a salient point or two. We learn a lot about Clifton Webb's early career, and Schickel gives a delightful account of what it was that Webb did in movies that allowed him to achieve a peculiar kind of screen stardom, but we never hear that he was gay, which was so obvious that it nearly cost him his big break (in Laura) because Darryl F. Zanuck, the head of production, was put off by his personality. Schickel tends to skip over a fair amount of material in the course of explaining the movie's content. The audio track by Robert Wagner, Audrey Dalton, cinematographer and historian Michael Lonzo, and historian Silvia Stoddard, is much livelier and more directly informative about the making of the movie, the period in which it was made, and how and where the movie departed significantly from reality. Lonzo delves mostly into technical explanations, while Dalton and Wagner recall where they were in each of their lives at the time of the film's production -- they're so charming to hear that their commentary is in a class by itself. Both have very fond memories of working on the movie, and Wagner still feels some of the excitement that he experienced at the time, suddenly thrust into star-billing alongside Webb, Stanwyck, et al. There's also an additional audio essay, "Titanic Aftermath," by Stoddard, in which she delves much more deeply into the history of the ship, which is extremely diverting and well worth the time. The documentary "Beyond Titanic" goes into the factual side of the sinking, and there are also Fox Movietone newsreel clips devoted to the opening of the movie and the 26th Annual Academy Awards, including the Oscar presentations for The Robe, the process of Cinemascope, and the screenwriters and the composer of Titanic's score. A trailer and stills gallery are also present. The movie has been given a generous 25 chapters that break its multi-tiered plot down perfectly. The disc opens automatically to a straightforward menu that goes three layers deep in special features.

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Ed Hulse
Unjustly forgotten in the wake of the Oscar-winning 1997 film directed by James Cameron, this 1953 fictionalization of the legendary sea disaster is a fine movie in its own right -- highly dramatic and unusually graphic for its time. As with Cameron's film, the ill-fated ocean liner's maiden voyage is the backdrop for a more personal story. Clifton Webb, the erstwhile Mr. Belvedere, portrays a wealthy, elegant snob whose marital strife is exacerbated during the trip when his wife (Barbara Stanwyck in one of her juiciest roles) stuns him with the revelation that he is not the real father of their son (Harper Carter). Devastated, he shuns the puzzled boy until the ship hits an iceberg, at which point he realizes that love is stronger than blood. The screenplay won an Oscar for writers Charles Brackett (who also produced the film), Walter Reisch, and Richard Breen, while director Jean Negulesco (How to Marry a Millionaire) garnered some of the best notices of his career for his depiction of the tragedy. The special effects, which seem primitive by comparison to the computer-generated wizardry of today's movies, were considered state-of-the-art back in 1953. Studio technicians built and destroyed a 20-foot miniature replica of the Titanic, complete down to the last detail. We grant that Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck may not have the sex appeal of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, but in most other respects this Titanic compares favorably to Cameron's more expensive and colorful version.
All Movie Guide
The obvious problem with filming the story of the 1912 sinking of the Titanic is that the outcome of the movie is known to all viewers. The strategy of both the 1953 Hollywood blockbuster and the 1998 Hollywood mega-blockbuster was to humanize the tragedy with soap-opera-type personal stories. In 1953, three screenwriters and little-known director Jean Negulseco focused on the story of an unhappy mother (Barbara Stanwyck) who wants to flee her cruel husband (Clifton Webb) for a new life in America. The plot is not all that different from the 1998 version, which also had a miserable woman hoping to escape an oppressive man, but the characters in the 1953 film are not as compelling or pretty. The plot ends up taking a back seat to the special effects, which are admirable by the standards of the era. A 20-foot model simulated the sinking of the ship. The film was a box-office hit and served for some time as a model for disaster films.

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Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
20th Century Fox
Region Code:
[stereo, monaural]
Sales rank:

Special Features

Closed Caption; Commentary by film critic Richard Shickel; Commentary by Robert Wagner, Audrey Dalton, and cinematographer Michael Lonza; "Beyond Titanic" documentary; Movietone newsreels (1953); Audio essay by Titanic historian Silvia Stoddard; Still gallery; Full-frame format (aspect ratio 1.33:1); Audio: English stereo, English mono, Spanish mono; Subtitles: English, Spanish

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Clifton Webb Richard Ward Sturgess
Barbara Stanwyck Mrs. Sturgess
Robert Wagner Giff Rogers
Audrey Dalton Annette Sturges
Thelma Ritter Mrs. Maude Young
Brian Aherne Captain E.J.Smith
Richard Basehart George Healey
Allyn Joslyn Earl Meeker
James Todd Sandy Comstock
Frances Bergen Madeleine Astor
William Johnstone John Jacob Astor
Christopher Severn Messenger
James Lilburn Devlin
Charles Fitzsimmons Chief Officer Wilde
Barry Bernard First Officer Murdock
Helen Van Tuyl Mrs. Straus
Roy Gordon Mr. Isidor Straus
Marta Mitrovich Mrs. Uzcadam
Ivis Goulding Emma
Ashley Cowan Bride
Harper Carter Norman Sturges
Edmund Purdom 2nd Officer Lightoller
Lee Graham Symons
Merry Anders College Girl
Gloria Gordon College Girl
Melinda Markey College Girl
Ron Hagerthy College Student
Conrad Feia College Student
Richard West College Boy
Patrick Aherne Actor
Salvador Baguez Actor
Eugene Borden Actor
George Boyce Actor
Robin Camp Messenger Boy
Harry Cording Actor
John Costello Actor
Nicolas Coster Actor
William Cottrell Actor
Herbert Deans Actor
John Dodsworth Actor
Michael Ferris Actor
Elizabeth Flournoy Woman with Baby
John Fraser Steward
David Hoffman Tailor
Robin Hughes Junior Officer
Charles R. Keane Actor
Mae Marsh Woman
Owen McGiveney Actor
Alberto Morin Actor
Pat O'Moore Relief Man
Richard Peel Actor
Gordon Richards Manager
David Thursby Seaman
Camillo Guercio Mr. Guggenheim
Donald Chaffin Actor
Michael Hadlow Actor
Ivan Hayes Actor
Bert Stevens Actor
Anthony Eustrel Sanderson
Michael Rennie Narrator

Technical Credits
Jean Negulesco Director
Robert Alton Choreography
Charles Brackett Producer,Screenwriter
Richard L. Breen Screenwriter
Roger Heman Sound/Sound Designer
Dorothy Jeakins Costumes/Costume Designer
Sol Kaplan Score Composer
Ray Kellogg Special Effects
Arthur L. Kirbach Sound/Sound Designer
Louis Loeffler Editor
Joe MacDonald Cinematographer
Lionel Newman Musical Direction/Supervision
Ben Nye Makeup
Maurice Ransford Art Director
Walter Reisch Screenwriter
Stuart A. Reiss Set Decoration/Design
Lyle Wheeler Art Director

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Scene Index

Side #1 --
1. Main Titles [1:54]
2. Happy Maiden Voyage [3:35]
3. The Passenger List [2:12]
4. A Fair Trade [2:12]
5. Setting Sail [3:53]
6. An Unpleasant Surprise [6:25]
7. Runaway [3:00]
8. The Boy From Prague [3:46]
9. Family Strife [5:15]
10. Trump Card [5:16]
11. Dinner and Dancing [2:25]
12. Confession [5:01]
13. A Good Reason to Drink [4:39]
14. Iceberg Report [3:23]
15. Harsh Words [1:34]
16. Oh! That Navajo Rag [2:54]
17. Not a Man of Character [2:31]
18. Young Love [6:44]
19. Impact! [5:59]
20. A Man of Character [5:31]
21. Tearful Farewell [3:09]
22. Women and Children Only [5:53]
23. Londonderry Air [3:44]
24. My Son [1:53]
25. Nearer, My God, to Thee [4:38]

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